“My lady just asked me how I am!!”, shouted the girl I was carrying as I toured through the community for the first time. The children are the undeniable force of this community. Every morning our bus is followed by their chorused fanfare, their hands outreached like they are ready to catch us. At first I found this intense level of affection overwhelming. However, I could never have have been prepared for how deeply I have been affected by my experience in this place. 
 
Full disclosure, I have never found myself naturally at ease with children; maybe it’s a skill you develop over time, but I have a long way to go. Kids are so genuine, trusting, and unreserved, compared to adults. Add in a language barrier and I’m completely lost. Rosa, the girl who shouted with such glee that I spoke to her in broken Spanish, is about seven years old. She had her hair done in braids with bobble ties every day I saw her. Mostly she would say hello, hold my hand, and show me off to her friends. During the week we started affectionately calling this interaction ‘getting a shadow’. But make no mistake, the kids choose us, on what criteria I will probably never know.
 
 
I’ve always been wary of some of the more self-serving aspects of humanitarian work. University students doing voluntourism for the chance to boast on their resume, not to mention on their Facebook profile picture holding a child like Rosa, has to me, always felt fake.
 
I have several photos now like this now, and it reminds me that going on a trip like this is not about whatever agenda you may have had when you arrived. Perhaps I originally came on this trip for some of my own selfish reasons, but those all get thrown out the window once you grasp the reality of the how strong the people in these communities are, and how much they have to teach us even in the midst of their need. In this community the children live a very different life than what I experienced growing up. Like other young children around the age of seven, Rosa will be expected to help with many of the household chores. Depending on the circumstances she may have to miss days of school to take care of her younger siblings. In her free time you’ll find her with a crowd of others, tirelessly shovelling away with these gringos, building a new house for her neighbour
 
 
I was aware before my time in here in the Dominican Republic that’s it’s a common trend that children living in poverty are not children for very long. However, seeing what that looks like, and realizing that it’s everyday life for many of these children, that is an entirely different kind of knowledge. These kids flow through their lives facing struggles that even cause me, as an adult, to break down in tears. Yet they do so with such energy and unapologetic joy! These are some of the happiest children I’ve ever met!

This how I ended up sitting in the dirt of a construction zone getting my nails done by Rosa, while her friend braided my sweat soaked hair. I have given endless piggy back rides, and held every hand that was reached out to me. These are the simplest things to give, but to these kids it makes their day. But it’s the lessons they taught me about compassion, hard work, and most importantly how to have fun, that will stay in my heart forever. 

– Chloe, Live Different Builds Volunteer, Boston Pizza Trip, 2015

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